Government

Caged migrant children at U.S. Mexico border

By Donna Deedy

Local U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D–Glen Cove), after visiting detention centers along the southern United States border July 13 with 15 other House Democrats, has returned to his Huntington office alarmed. The situation, he said, is awful.  

U.S. Immigration Detention Center. photo from Tom Suozzi’s Office

“We need to make the humanitarian crisis at the border priority number one,” Suozzi said. “The system is broken.”

The group toured and inspected facilities that are currently holding Central American migrants seeking asylum and met with several migrant families to hear, first-hand, their experiences and what can be done to help.

“America is better than this,” he said. “I have worked on this issue since before I was elected mayor of Glen Cove in 1993 and I will continue to fight for solutions consistent with our American values.” 

During the visit, Suozzi learned that only 20 to 30 migrants seeking asylum are processed each day. This provides an incentive for people to cross in between ports of entry, he said, and once apprehended, they then turn themselves in to seek asylum. In turn, this leads to their detention.

“My recent trip to the border makes it clear that this issue is incredibly complicated and has been for decades. The policies and rhetoric from this administration have exacerbated the problem, permeating a culture of fear that forces many immigrants further into the shadows.” 

 The congressman is calling for action, insisting that all delegates work together to:

•Address the current humanitarian crisis at the border.

•Secure borders in a smart and effective way.

•Create stability in the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras that account for almost 90 percent of current immigrants.

•Protect the legal status of Dreamers and people with temporary protective status and their families with renewable temporary protection and a path to citizenship.

The tour coincided with rallies held in Huntington village and across the country and the world in protest of the policies and inhumane practices at U.S. border with Mexico. 

Suozzi was a guest on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on July 16, where he said that “the president has, once again, shifted the conversation away from important policy issues toward a racial divide in our country.”

The Rev. Duncan Burns, of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Huntington, attended the Huntington rally “Lights for Liberty” and spoke to the crowd that gathered July 12. Suozzi’s trip to the border, the reverend said, has sparked greater concern.

“We encourage people to raise their voices and to call their members of Congress to urge them to work together to find solutions,” he said. “The Episcopal Church is completely backing both parties to find a solution to this humanitarian crisis.”

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) did not respond to phone and email requests for comment on his position on the issue.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) during the swearing-in of state Sen. James Gaughran (D-Northport). Photo by Sara Meghan Walsh

As part of New York State’s commitment to reach zero-carbon emissions, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced July 3 a $55 million investment for energy storage projects that promotes commercial and residential clean energy use on Long Island. 

“With our nation-leading clean energy goals and aggressive strategy to combat climate change, New York continues to set the example of climate leadership for other states across the country,” Cuomo said. “These incentives for energy storage will help Long Islanders grow their clean energy economy and create jobs while also improving the resiliency of the grid in the face of more frequent extreme weather events.”

The initial roll out includes nearly $15 million in incentives available immediately from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority for both residential and commercial installations. Additional compensation is also available from PSEG-LI’s Dynamic Load Management tariff, which pays customers to reduce the amount of grid electricity used when demand is highest. The energy storage system paired with solar can enable this to be accomplished. 

 The current NYSERDA incentive is $250 for each kilowatt hour of energy storage installed up to 25 kilowatt hours for a residential system and 15 megawatt hours for a commercial system.  

NYSERDA’s NY-Sun program also offers financing for the installation of solar panels.

 “As more renewable resources are brought online throughout the state, energy storage will improve the efficiency of the grid to better integrate resources like solar while providing residents and businesses with a cleaner, more reliable energy system,” Alicia Barton, president and CEO, NYSERDA, said. “This announcement reinforces Long Island’s position as one of the leading clean energy markets in New York and moves the state closer to reaching Governor Cuomo’s aggressive 3,000 megawatts by 2030 energy storage target.”

The state estimates that the 2030 target equates to powering 40 percent of New York homes with carbon-free technology.

The remaining funds will be allocated over the next three to five years and will be used to drive down costs and scale up the market for these clean energy technologies. The incentives support energy storage installed at customer sites for standalone systems or systems paired with solar.

“Incentivizing energy storage projects on Long Island is a necessary step in order to develop our renewable resource capacity,” Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), chair of the Assembly Environmental Conservation Committee, said. “This will help reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, stabilize energy bills for ratepayers, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. I applaud Governor Cuomo for this initiative and look forward to more proposals that will ensure New York State takes the lead in addressing climate change.” 

Residents enjoy a day on the Nissequogue River. Photo from the Nissequogue River State Park Foundation

County officials are asking residents for help in creating Suffolk’s new blueway trail.

According to the National Park Service, a blueway trail is a water path that provides recreational boating opportunities along a river, lake, canal or coastline.

The county’s blueway trail plan will make nonmotorized water sports — kayaking, canoeing, paddleboarding and rowing — more accessible to residents and visitors by identifying information needed for a safe and fun paddling experience.

As part of the first phase, the county has launched a survey to solicit feedback from residents to see what they would want in a blueway trail. The comments and recommendations received through the survey will be open until July 15.

“Our ultimate goal is to link the blueway trail to our great recreational assets, such as our parks, beaches, and hike and bike trails, as well as provide opportunities to advance ecotourism and economic development within the county,” said County Executive Steve Bellone (D). “Paddling is a great way to enjoy the outdoors and exercise at the same time. The county is committed to working with residents to add to the enjoyment of the experience.”

The survey will help identify existing and potential launch sites throughout the county’s more than 1,000 miles of waterfront and develop a wish list to improve the sites for water access.

“Paddlers have long enjoyed Suffolk’s scenic waters, and we want to make it easier for residents and visitors to learn how to take advantage of the magnificent waterways we have available to us while doing it in a safe and fun way,” said county Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket).

The origins of a countywide blueway trail date back three years ago, when Hahn was developing a similar plan for her North Shore district.

In June 2016, Hahn sponsored bipartisan legislation authorizing the county to pursue state funding, which resulted in the award of a $60,000 grant.

“It is an exciting next step,” she said. “I grew up in Stony Brook, and there’s nothing like being out in the water.”

Once priority sites have been identified, Suffolk County will work with the various municipalities to identify funding sources for specific project improvements and develop a management, communication and marketing plan.

Hahn said the trail would help drive new opportunities for tourism and benefit the local economy.

“We are looking for inexpensive ways for residents to access the shoreline,” she said.

The trail would provide suggested routes depending on skill level, locations of features such as rest stops, scenic locations, bird-watching and amenities including restrooms, concessions, nearby businesses and parking. It will also include signage to help paddlers find launch locations and provide information such as maps, environmental educational information and safety information.

Though the first phase of the plan is underway, Hahn said this will be a long planning process that could take a few years.

She said it depends on how much funding they can get as they will need to reapply for more grants as well as fixing and preparing the launch sites to be used as part of the blueway trail.

For residents who want to contribute to the blueway trail survey visit, www.arcg.is/1KyPDq.

June 30, 2019- New York City, NY- Governor Andrew Cuomo on World Pride and the 50th Anniversary of Stonewall signs legislation banning Gay and Trans Panic Legal Defense and marches in 2019 World Pride Parade. (Darren McGee- Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo)

By Donna Deedy

State Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Northport) has had a banner year. As a freshman senator serving the greater Huntington region, he introduced 68 bills with more than half passing the Senate, according to his office, and 26 percent passing both branches of the state Legislature.

Looking back, Gaughran said in a recent interview the 2019 legislative session, which ended June 20, will be regarded overall as remarkable. He attributes his success rate to the fact that the Senate was comprised of so many freshman senators.

His proudest accomplishment, he said, was passing a bill to provide disability benefits to civilian public employees who responded to Ground Zero after the 9/11 terrorist attack. The bill, called S5898D, offers relief to overlooked workers, such as transit employees and civil engineers who are sick, suffering from severe conditions and are dying from cleanup-related afflictions.

Timothy DeMeo, a first responder for the N.Y. State Department of Environmental Conservation, said he is grateful to Gaughran for getting the legislation passed within four months. 

“This law is long overdue and will help so many of us who need to retire to be able to fully address our health concerns,” he said.

DeMeo arrived at the Twin Towers just as the second plane struck and was injured by falling debris. His vehicle, he said, flipped over and pancaked. He has required multiple surgeries and is scheduled for more. DeMeo worked for the DEC for 20 years and logged more than 1,000 hours over the course of four months removing hazardous waste from Ground Zero. Today, he suffers from respiratory ailments and other conditions.

“I call myself the forgotten responder, because I’m not afforded the same benefits of my respected colleagues,” he said. 

Some of Gaughran’s other legislative achievements include making the 2 percent property tax cap permanent, allowing for early voting in elections and backing the state’s red-flag law, which establishes rules that keep guns out of the hands of people who are mentally ill. 

Gaughran said he opposed bail reform and allowing undocumented immigrants the ability to qualify for a driver’s license, two controversial bills that passed both the Senate and the Assembly and were ultimately signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D). 

In the fall, while lawmakers are out of session, Gaughran expects to hold hearings with his constituents. One issue he’d like to see addressed is high property taxes. 

“We may need to open a discussion on consolidation,” he said. Schools, counties and local governments, he said, should work to share more services, which can reduce costs.

With regard to the Long Island Power Authority, Gaughran sponsored several bills. One bill, which proposed financial aid to school districts impacted by LIPA’s tax certiorari cases, stalled in committee. The other bill, S5122A, aimed to prevent LIPA from collecting back taxes through tax lawsuits. The Senate passed the latter LIPA bill unanimously and the Assembly introduced identical legislation, but it remained under legal review in the Assembly and was never put to a vote. Gaughran said that LIPA CEO Tom Falcone and LIPA lobbyists had a strong presence in Albany, after he successfully introduced the LIPA bill. He plans to take the issue up again in next year’s session.

LIPA’s press office did not respond to email requests for comments about its lobbying efforts related to the bills. Record requests filed under New York’s Freedom of Information Law are still pending.

Overall, Gaughran would like to see improvements made to the state’s budget process. Legislators, he said, are bombarded with bills right before the April 1 budget deadline.

“We really have to fix the budget process,” he said. “It’s policy as much as money.”

Photo from Governor’s office

Stock photo

By Stephanie Quarles

Many organizations, universities, scientists and government officials have studied and spoken out on Long Island’s water issues, with regard to our oceans, estuaries, rivers and our aquifers.  

A recent conference in Riverhead on May 30, organized by the Environmental Advocates of New York (EANY), focused on the contamination of drinking water supplies in Suffolk County and aimed to educate and strengthen advocacy and partnerships on these issues. At the conference the following bills that were pending in the NYS Legislature and supported by EANY were highlighted. Since the conference, the Senate and Assembly have debated and passed all but one of these bills. They are described below (source: EANY). 

Stock photo

1,4-Dioxane Ban A.6295, S.4389 prohibits the distribution and sale of household cleaning products and personal cosmetic products containing 1,4-dioxane to protect our health and waterways that will take effect Dec. 21, 2021. The USEPA has classified it as likely to be “carcinogenic to humans, and it is listed by California Proposition 65 as known or suspected of causing cancer or birth defects. Studies show that it causes chronic kidney and lever effects and liver cancer.” Since it is not listed as an ingredient in health and beauty and home care products, “it is difficult for consumers to avoid.” Alternative manufacturing processes exist.  

The NY State Drinking Water Council recommends that for 1,4-dioxane, more than 1 part per billion requires treatment. Nassau and Suffolk water suppliers have reported the highest levels of 1,4-dioxane contamination in the nation. It is most prevalent in our Long Island waters with 82 of the 89 wells above the threshold.         

Update: Passed by NYS Senate and NYS Assembly, waiting for governor’s signature to become law.

PFAS-Free Firefighting Foam A.445, S.439 bans the use, manufacture, sale and distribution of firefighting foam containing perfluroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances known as PFAS chemicals two years after the effective date. These bills are to eliminate a major source of drinking water contamination and encourage alternatives. PFAS is associated with cancer, hormone disruption, liver and kidney damage, developmental and reproductive harm and immune system toxicity. There is no safe level of exposure.

Hampton Bays Fire Department was designated as a Superfund site (contamination site) due to groundwater contamination by PFAS.

Update: Passed by NYS Senate and NYS Assembly, waiting for governor’s signature to become law.

“Polluter Pays” A.5377-C, S.3337-C allows public water suppliers and wholesale water suppliers to sue a polluter for damages within three years of water testing that reveals elevated levels of dangerous contaminants in the water supply. This bill makes it easier to hold polluters accountable and helps prevent the costs of remediation from falling on New York taxpayers.

Update: Passed by NYS Senate and NYS Assembly, waiting for governor’s signature to become law.

Restricting Nitrogen Fertilizer A.4568, S.2130 adds to the Environmental Conservation Law to require that only low-level fertilizer with no more than 12 percent nitrogen by weight is sold in Suffolk and Nassau counties. Limits on nitrogen in fertilizers will reduce the nitrogen that runs off during rain. EANY recommends that the bill be extended to cover all of NY state and not be delayed to Dec 31, 2021.

Update: Currently in the Environmental Committee in the Assembly. 

Although the focus of the seminar was on drinking water contaminates, other topics of concern for our water quality were brought up as well; the drop in the aquifer, nitrogen levels and the sewage discharge, lead pipe run off, salt intrusions and septic systems were also noted as major issues affecting water quality. The importance of appropriate standards for detecting contamination was stressed.

Tyrand Fuller of the Suffolk County Water Authority described the water quality mapping and database project known as WaterTraq. It tracks potential threats in the water supply and provides supply information to the public and regulators. It has an interactive map providing the status of LI groundwater for health officials, industry professionals and the public and provides both untreated (raw) water test results and treated water that is sent to the public. http://liaquifercommission.com/watertraq.html.

Another way to find out information about the water quality in your community is at the Suffolk County Water Authority’s Water Quality Report website: http://s1091480.instanturl.net/2019waterreport/water-quality-by-distribution-area-2019-scwa_index.html.

Our fellow Suffolk County residents must be more aware of how fragile and difficult it is to safeguard the quality of our drinking waters. We must continue to educate ourselves and speak loudly for support of legislation dealing with our water crisis. For a list of conference speakers as well as additional resources from expert sites on our drinking water, visit http://www.lwv-suffolkcounty.org/TakeAction.html.

Stephanie Quarles is a director of the League of Women Voters of Suffolk County, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that encourages the informed and active participation of citizens in government and influences public policy through education and advocacy. For more information, visit www.lwv-suffolkcounty.org or call 631-862-6860.

Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) during a press conference at Port Jefferson Harbor. The LIPA power plant can be seen in the distance. File photo by David Luces
Extreme weather events, coastal flooding, crop yields, brush fires and disruption of fisheries and other ecosystems are among the many concerns that scientists and policymakers aim to address through legislation. Image from the United Nations International Panel on Cllimate Change

New York lawmakers aim to tackle the climate change issue head on: It passed June 20 a bill that will largely eliminate fossil-fuel emissions by 2050. 

The bill, called the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, will require incremental changes to the state’s infrastructure. By 2030, the state plans to obtain 70 percent of its electricity from renewable energy sources, shifting entirely to carbon-free electricity by 2040 and cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 85 percent below 1990 levels. Part of the plan includes developing and implementing measures that remove carbon dioxide, a heat-trapping gas, from the atmosphere. 

New York joins California, Nevada, Hawaii, Washington, New Mexico, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico in committing to clean energy power. The initiative comes in response to the current administration bailing out of the United Nation’s landmark 2015 Paris Agreement to build a low-carbon future and scaling back on many other environmental measures and regulations. 

Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), the bill’s original sponsor, said the bill addresses one of the most important issues of our time. He and state senators have been trying to get clean-energy legislation passed for the last four years. Prior to the 2018 elections, he said, the bill was stuck in the Republican-led senate. 

“It made a big difference in getting this [bill] passed,” he said. “When you have individuals that deny climate change, it is difficult just to get to first base.”

“We will all need to work together to solve this.”

— Steve Englebright

The bill lays out an ambitious plan for the next 30 years, and it will be guided by a 22-member state panel called the Climate Action Council. 

The council will be made up of state agencies, scientists and individuals in the environmental justice, labor and other regulated industries. The bill requires the council to create a scoping plan that will set out recommendations for reducing emissions across all sectors of the economy, including transportation, building, industrial, commercial and agricultural. They will have to approve a scoping plan within the next two years and then update the plan at least every five years. 

Englebright said a lot is at stake with this climate plan and it is important that they are successful. 

“I would say this is the most aggressive plan to combat this climate challenge; New York should be leading the way,” he said. 

The bill will also set aside hundreds of millions of dollars to prioritize disadvantaged communities around the state, particularly those devastated by pollution and climate change. 

“The Long Island Progressive Coalition celebrates the power of the NY Renews coalition in winning a climate bill that makes New York a national leader in legally-mandated emissions cuts,” Lisa Tyson, Long Island Progressive Coalition director said in a statement. “The agreement struck on the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act is a significant step forward in combating the climate crisis and moving toward a more regenerative economy for our communities — one powered by 100 percent clean renewable energy.”

Though it is considered a victory in the fight against climate change, the coalition was disappointed that some amendments were left out of the final bill. 

“We are deeply concerned that the changes in the final version of the bill weaken the original intent we set out as a coalition to directly invest resources in vulnerable communities,” Tyson said in a statement. “Although the bill includes a nod toward prevailing wage, the governor’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act removes mandates to secure specific worker protections, job growth and training included in previous editions of the Climate and Community Protection Act, which are essential to a just transition off of fossil fuels.”

Other county officials weighed in on the passage of the bill. 

“As chair of the Suffolk County Environment Committee, I understand how crucial it is to our children’s futures that we take measurable steps to counteract human-induced climate change,” Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) said in a statement. “I am proud to say that I am from a state that recognizes the importance of environmental consciousness, and that takes the action necessary toward progress. I commend Governor Cuomo and the New York State Legislature for reaching an agreement that will ensure measurable reductions in carbon emissions and promote clean energy and a greener economy.”

Once the bill is signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), it will become law. 

Englebright stressed it is going to take a collaborative effort to make sure this plan will work. 

“It is going to take recognition from people that this is not some made up problem, It is not a fake science,” he said. “We will need to work together to solve this.” 

Scientists from the United Nations International Panel on Climate Change have been recommending to policymakers the 70 to 85 percent reduction of fossil fuel use by 2050 to curb the worst impacts of a warming planet.

By Donna Deedy

donna@tbrnewsmedia.com

“It’s more than a pretty garden,” said Chris Clapp, a marine scientist for The Nature Conservancy. “It’s a biological process that relies on plants, wood chips and microbes to remove nitrogen in wastewater before it flows back into the environment.”

On June 24, County Executive Steve Bellone (D) joined Clapp with a conglomerate of representatives from both government and the private sector at The Nature Conservancy’s Upland Farms Sanctuary in Cold Spring Harbor to unveil a state-of-the-art method for reducing and eliminating nitrogen from wastewater. 

The county expects the new system to be a replacement for cesspools and septic systems, which are blamed for the seeping of nitrogen into Long Island waterways, causing red tides, dead zones and closed beaches.

County Executive Steve Bellone and Nancy Kelley of The Nature Conservancy plant the new garden at Upland Farms.

The issue is a serious concern, Bellone said, as he introduced the county’s Deputy Executive Peter Scully, who is spearheading the county’s Reclaim Our Water Initiative and serves as the Suffolk’s water czar. “Anytime a government appoints a water czar, you know you have problems to address.”

Scully, formerly the director for the Long Island region of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, said six other septic alternatives are currently approved.    

Long Island is reportedly one of the most densely populated locations in the country without adequate wastewater treatment. Currently, there are 360,000 antiquated cesspools and septic systems. The county expects to set nitrogen reduction targets for watershed areas where replacement holds the most benefit. 

The technique, called a vegetated circulating gravel system, is composed of an underground network that essentially connects the drains and toilets of a home or office to plant life and microbial action. It works in two stages to denitrify the wastewater. The first phase discharges wastewater into an underground gravel bed covered with a surprisingly small garden of native plants that takes up nitrogen through its roots. The water is then circulated into an underground box of wood chips that convert the remaining nitrogen into gas, before it’s circulated back to the gravel bed. Once the water is denitrified, it’s dispersed through a buried leaching field. 

The county partnered with the Nature Conservancy to develop and implement the system for its Upland Farms Sanctuary. The sanctuary is located a half-mile from Cold Spring Harbor, where water quality has worsened during the last 12 years to the point where the state is officially proposing to designate it an impaired water body. 

“The Conservancy is proud to stand alongside the county and our partners to celebrate this exciting new system that taps into the power of nature to combat the nitrogen crisis, putting us on a path to cleaner water,” said Nancy Kelley, Long Island chapter director for The Nature Conservancy.  

During the experimental phase the system reduced by half the amount of nitrogen discharged from wastewater. A similar technique has been effective at removing up to 90% in other parts of the country. The system’s designers at Stony Brook University’s Center for Clean Water Technology aim to completely remove nitrogen from discharges.  The Upland Farms offices and meeting hall system, which encompasses 156 square feet,  serves the equivalent of two to three homes. 

Suffolk County Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport) said that denitrification efforts work. The Centerport Yacht Club’s beach was closed for seven years due to water quality issues and reopened in 2015 after the Northport sewer plant upgraded to a denitrification system. Improvements to the harbor storm drain discharges, and a public lawn care campaign about curbing the use of fertilizers, also reportedly helped. 

The county has reached a critical juncture and beginning July 1, its new sanitary code for septic systems takes effect, which permits only denitrifying technology.

Justin Jobin, who works on environmental projects with the Suffolk County Department of Health Services, said that he expects to gain approval for a pilot program to accelerate the vegetated circulating gravel system’s public introduction, which could be approved as soon as this summer.  The design can be modified, its developers said, to serve single homes or large businesses. In addition to removing nitrogen, the system can also naturally filter out pharmaceuticals and personal care products.  Its impacts on 1,4-dioxane are being studied. 

Visit www.ReclaimOurWater.info for additional information. 

Photos by Donna Deedy

While the U.S. women’s soccer team waits to enter mediations regarding the discrepancy between their pay and the men’s team’s earnings, Suffolk County women, as well as racial and ethnic minority workers, are about to enter a more even playing field when they decide to apply for a new job starting June 30 thanks to a new law.

We say it’s about time.

Historically, women along with racial and ethnic minority workers have earned lower than average wages. Before passing the law, the county Legislature used an April 2018 New York State Department of Labor report that found women in the county earn 78 percent for what their male counterparts earn. The statewide percentage is 87. The same report cited that in New York African American or black women earn 64 percent and Latino or Hispanic women earn 53 percent of what men earn.

The Legislature recently decided to do something about the injustice by creating a local law, called the RISE (Restrict Information Regarding Salary and Earnings) Act, to restrict divulging earnings history during the interview process. County Executive Steve Bellone (D) signed the legislation into law in November.

This means when a Suffolk County resident searches for a new job, they will not be haunted by their last salary. Now, employers and employment agencies cannot ask for salary history on applications or during interviews.

In addition to women and minority workers being offered less in the past, there are also cases where people have been out of work for a long time — whether due to layoffs, taking care of children or a sick relative — who take the first job they are offered, regardless of pay just to get back on track careerwise.

This can cause problems when they apply for a job and the company asks for their salary history. The job applicant might be offered a salary below the range the employer was originally thinking. The employer may see it as an opportunity to save money, thinking if the applicant got by on their last wage, why would they need much more.

But no more. Now employers have to decide how much they believe a job is worth, then offer that salary. And while it makes sense that there may be a salary range based on experience, it also makes sense to pay people similar pay for doing the same job.

And the law benefits more than women and ethnic and racial minority workers; it even helps those who are leaving a high-paying position. In the past, if someone wanted to travel down a different career path, they may have been willing to accept a lower salary. But a company may not have called them for an interview when they saw how much they made at previous jobs, thinking they wouldn’t take a lower salary.

In the end, the new law may even help the local economy. With more money in women’s bank accounts, they will have more buying power or the opportunity to escape from dysfunctional relationships and get a place of their own.

Confirmed with a bipartisan, unanimous vote, the Suffolk County Legislature apparently believes the RISE Act will help break the cycle of wage discrimination in the area. We agree, and we say to those who have felt stuck in their financial situation that now is the time to RISE and shine.

Village of Poquott held its election June 18. File photo

On June 18, Poquott residents will head to the polls to choose between four candidates vying for two trustee spots. This year’s incumbents Jeff Koppelson and John Richardson will go up against newcomers Felicia Chillak and Tina Cioffi. Paul Edelson is running unopposed for a four-year term as village justice.

All four board members recently answered questions via email and phone.

Incumbents

Jeff Koppelson

Koppelson, 71, has served two two-year terms as trustee and since 2017 has been deputy mayor. A Poquott resident for 47 years, he is a retired director of a psychiatric treatment program. He and Cioffi are running on the Bright Side ticket.

“I decided to run because there are a number of projects that I’ve been working on that are still in progress, such as developing a plan to stabilize Walnut Beach and continuing to rewrite our outdated village codes,” Koppelson said.

The trustee said the language for many of the codes had to be updated to bring them into compliance and to make them consistent with each other. Codes often overlap, he said, and “a number of times one code said one thing and another code contradicted it.”

Municipalities are now required to follow the International Building Code, which covers multiple construction and zoning issues. Koppelson said while a village can make a code stricter, it cannot make a code more lenient.

“So, it is important that we have our codes not only comply but be distilled down to what we as a small village need to know,” he said, adding the village posts the codes on its website for easy accessibility for residents.

After a code is rewritten, it is circulated among the board members for comments, and then a public hearing is held to give residents the opportunity to point out errors or inconsistencies before it is given to the village attorney.

Richardson, 44, is completing his first term as trustee and last year ran for mayor against Dee Parrish. The New York City firefighter has lived in the village for nearly 18 years, and he is running in the We the People Party with Chillak.

“I would like to keep some form of checks and balances on the board to prevent unfair laws and issues from being rubber stamped and pushed through and allow village residents more say on how their village is governed,” Richardson said.

Richardson said he opposes the board’s plan to classifying a zoning violation as a misdemeanor and to request a search warrant to enter someone’s home for inspection as the village deems necessary. He added he feels the moves would be an overreach of the government.

“I would like to curb the intrusive hostile government laws trying to be passed,” Richardson said.

Koppelson said Richardson’s objection is an example of codes needing to be updated, and a process was recently needed for emergency situations as one didn’t exist. For example, if it is believed there is a dangerous situation in a house and the owners don’t agree to an inspection, a search warrant is needed to evaluate the situation. It was a suggestion that came from village attorney Joseph Prokop, Koppelson said, who told the trustee that similar situations have occurred in other villages that he does legal work for.

Challengers

Chillak, 61, is vying for trustee for the second time after an unsuccessful run in 2018 for a seat. A realtor with HR Realty since 1990, she has lived in Poquott for 29 years and has been a member of the Poquott Civic Association board since 2014.

Felicia Chillak

“I am running again because I feel there should be a balance on the board,” she said. “I will continue to review and analyze all changes made in our village. As always, I will seek residents’ input because this village belongs to them. I will be the voice of the voiceless.”

She feels that many residents are hesitant to approach the board but feel comfortable talking to her, and she feels she can be a conduit between the village government and residents.

“The Village of Poquott was formed because residents did not want outside influence controlling their everyday lives,” she said. “This current board seems to be bed rocked in government control. I will strive for a balance, so we can once again enjoy all the pleasures of residing in our little corner of heaven.”

Cioffi, 50, is running for trustee for the first time. A former creative director in a Long Island-based advertising agency for 15 years, she has owned a marketing and communications consulting business since 2003. She has lived in Poquott since 2008, and her husband has owned their home since 1986.

Cioffi said maintaining the village’s website and attending board meetings inspired her to get involved.

“I saw a lot of good happening in our village as well a lot of controversy,” she said. “I saw both sides of most of the arguments and felt that my background in communications might lend a hand in resolving some of the issues, so I volunteered to redesign the website as it was an area that all the candidates agreed needed to be addressed.”

Community dock

Poquott’s dock will officially open June 13, but for years it was a hot button topic in the village. The dock, located in California Park at the end of Washington Street, had been discussed by residents for nearly a decade, and while several protested the idea, the village board began the process of building one a few years ago.

Tina Cioffi

Richardson and Chillak feel the issue is behind the village now, but in the past, both called for a referendum for residents to vote on it as both candidates didn’t feel prior questionnaires that were mailed to residents about the dock were adequate.

“The current board spoke, ignored the request of the people and for now, we have to move on,” Chillak said. “I will work toward that unity.”

All the candidates feel there may be unforeseeable issues with the dock, and it will take a season of use to formalize guidelines.

“We will need a season of using it to learn how to manage hours of usage, loitering and noise issues, and deployment of our code enforcement officers,” Koppelson said. “We also expect that there will be new, evolving issues that inevitably arise.”

Richardson said he believes all aspects “of the dock should have been discussed and decided before the dock was built.”

Other issues

All four trustees agreed that there are issues outside of the dock to resolve in the village.

Koppelson said the board has to address drainage issues in the village, and he would also like to work toward an affordable, short-term solution to stabilizing what is left of Walnut Beach. He said the village also needs to develop a way to speed up the seasonal road repair process, which starts after the winter and involves the advertising of bids and then waiting for the next board meeting to open the bids and award the contract. This leads to work not being completed until well into spring.

Cioffi agreed that the village faces the degrading of Walnut Beach and infrastructure changes including repaving and drainage and lighting systems needing to be modified “but few of the residents want to incur the tax increase that would be required to fully accommodate those requests.”

The candidate said she would like to work on feasibility studies that compare Poquott to other incorporated villages in order to find out where the village falls short and form committees with interested residents to work together with the board to obtain grants.

“I think it’s going to be a multiphase endeavor similar to how the current board addresses issues now but on a larger scale and with more people involved to expedite the process,” she said, adding the new village website includes a community section to foster participation for resident-based clubs and organizations.

Richardson and Chillak also agreed that there are issues regarding roads, lighting and drainage that need to be addressed with long-term plans. 

“There are residents that have spoken of their willingness to help,” Chillak said. “I will engage them to the best of my ability.”

Chillak said the auditor’s last report was also troubling to her, and she feels finances are another major issue. She said even though the budget looks as if the village is on target, she feels the auditor’s comments at a recent village meeting point to the fund balance being dangerously close to low.

Unity

Many feel the community dock has caused divisiveness in the village over the years, but the candidates feel that can end.

Cioffi said she ran a charity drive in December where she felt all the residents contributed generously, and if she’s elected, she plans on more community-based initiatives for children and teenagers to bring residents together.

“The residents of Poquott share a lot of common ground and we need to build on it, not break it down,” she said. “Collaboration is key. If there is an issue, a black or white solution is not going to satisfy every resident. If I’m elected, I’m going to look for the solutions that strike compromises and land somewhere in between.”

Richardson said nothing would make him happier than to see residents come together.

“The polarization of neighbors has gone on too long,” he said. “It’s a shame, because it takes away from what makes Poquott such a great place. How do you facilitate that? I think it could start with neighbors sharing more hellos and handshakes, and less rumors, lies and insults.”

The Village of Poquott will hold its annual election Tuesday, June 18, at Village Hall located at 45 Birchwood Ave. Polling will be open from 12 to 9 p.m. for voting.

Among the suggested improvements for Route 25A is making signs more consistent, especially at Woods Corner east of Nicolls Road. File photo by Rita J. Egan

The next phase of the 25A corridor study is set to begin. Late last month, the Route 25A Citizen Advisory Committee, town officials and community leaders met to begin discussing a land use code for the corridor. This code would regulate future development and architecture styles among other things in the area.

“This is where we can take a vision and be able to actually make an impact.”

— George Hoffman

The land use phase is one of the most significant land use initiatives affecting the community in years.

George Hoffman, co-chair of the CAC, said he is excited for this next phase and to be working with this group of individuals.

“This is where we can take a vision and be able to actually make an impact,” he said.

The corridor study dates back to 2016 when the town appointed the CAC to assist them in the study and land use plan in the future development of the area. In 2017, the town came out with its Route 25A /Three Village Area Visioning Report.

The report covered the hamlets of Stony Brook, Setauket and East Setauket. Its goal was to use the report as a tool to help achieve a corridor that has a well-functioning road, quality building, site design, improved pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly facilities and preserve historic and natural open spaces.

Hoffman said 25A is an important and historical road that he believes should
be protected.

“The community has seen what has happened to Route 25 after it was turned into a highway,” he said. “They don’t want 25A to turn into Jericho Turnpike.”

Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) said the 25A corridor study is an important tool for land use planning in the community.

“We have just entered into the second phase of this project and I look forward to working with the Citizens Advisory Committee and the community toward implementation of the community vision,” she said in a statement. “I am proactively advocating for this project to proceed as quickly as the process allows, and I will continue to look for public input and participation as we move forward.”

“I am proactively advocating for this project to proceed as quickly as the process allows, and I will continue to look for public input and participation as we move forward.”

— Valerie Cartright

Hoffman said with the land use phase they can apply what they learned in the vision report and decide if there needs to be any changes in zone codes.

One option they are considering is a design manual for future development in the corridor.

“We want to slowly over time make the architecture more consistent,” Hoffman said.

He said residents have expressed they would like the historical nature of the area to be preserved and be a kind of colonial rural community.

The committee will look at all the available parcels in the corridor that could be developed to make sure they are appropriately zoned.

Hoffman also mentioned areas of opportunity the committee and others will look at. One of them is Woods Corner, which is a commercial area east of Nicolls Road. He said he has gotten a sense from the community that there could be improvements to the signage of the commercial buildings.

Another area is the East Setauket commercial corridor near Gnarled Hollow Road and East Setauket Pond Park.

“The boarded-up building on the corner has been an eyesore for quite some time,” Hoffman said. “The county is attempting to purchasing it.”

The first step is to get an appraisal on the land and then the owner of the property will be made an offer. Hoffman said the area is environmentally sensitive due to a stream flowing under the property into nearby waterways. The building’s basement was known to flood because of the running water.

“Because there are no sewers in the area there are limitations on how large a building can be,” he said.

The co-chair of the committee said they hope to take about six months on the land use plan process, and when completed, they will look to write an updated town zone code. If approved, it will be adopted by the town board.

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